During his morning tours of the Mesa County’s irrigation district, Dave Voorhees checks a program on his computer tablet in his truck that shows him where each property is, who it belongs to, and where overhead gates and side connections are.
This is important because the Mesa County Irrigation District is an intricate system of canals, headgates, public and private sideboards. Its boundaries sometimes overlap with other systems.
Voorhees is the sole trenchman and manager of the Mesa County Irrigation District known as MCID. The district provides water to approximately 1,200 acres of land between De Beque Canyon and 30 Road, including agricultural land and subdivisions.
The silver nails irrigate our three hectares with MCID water.
MCID provides irrigation water through the Stubb Ditch, north of the Government Highline Canal, but also distributes water directly to users through the Highline.
The Palisade Irrigation District (PID) provides approximately 6,500 acres of water via its Price Ditch south of the Highline Canal. The larger group has three full-time and two part-time employees.
The two districts operated separate bypass dams until 1910 when they merged and built a new dam and pumping station on the Colorado River at the western end of De Beque Canyon.
According to a 1918 report by the US Claims Service at the time, the machines used by the two districts were outdated, costly to maintain, and inefficient.
“The method used by the districts to pump their water therefore required wasting 1,200 seconds of water to irrigate only 8,400 acres of land,” the report said.
As a result, the two districts agreed to join the recently established Government Highline System operated by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. MCID and PID would retain their respective water rights, but water would be delivered through the Highline Canal instead of the boroughs’ dam and pumps.
In 1919 the Reclamation Service built a new pumping station east of Palisade for the two districts.
As the Highline Canal water flows from Tunnel No. 3 into the Grand Valley, the water for MCID and PID is diverted and spilled into the pumping station. The Price Ditch’s water flows through the pumping station and spins turbines that pump MCID water uphill into the Stubb Ditch.
The plant began operating in April 1919, and the 1920 report declared the $ 46,000 project a success.
“The service in the 1919 season showed that such a system is not only highly efficient, but also very reliable and economical to operate and maintain,” it said.
102 years later, and the pumping station is still working fine.
“We still use the same pump that was installed in 1919,” said Voorhees. “Although some parts have been replaced over the years.”
“It’s amazing what Vision can do for you,” said Dan Crabtree, superintendent of the Palisade Irrigation District. Thanks to the vision of the people in 1919, both districts now have a reliable water supply.
Both systems changed again in the 1990s, from open trenches to their main channels in underground concrete pipes as part of efforts by the US Bureau of Reclamation to reduce salinity in the Colorado River.
Crabtree was then an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation and designed the concrete pipe system for the Price Ditch.
Despite the important changes made over the past century, some typical irrigation problems remain.
“When it gets really hot, everyone wants to water at the same time,” says Voorhees. “The subdivisions want a lot of water and that sometimes creates a gap between subdivisions and agricultural users.”
This year there were fears that the ongoing drought might require water rationing. But that hasn’t happened so far. Summer rain helped tremendously.
“We have never had to close headgates or switch to rotating water,” said Crabtree. “But if we have to, we will.”
For both Crabtree and Voorhees, the biggest problem is usually the lack of water supply to the irrigation systems, but flooding from excessive watering.
“Our biggest challenge is drainage,” said Crabtree.
Voorhees repeated that. “The worst fight I’ve ever had” as a trencher happened this summer when an irrigation device heavily irrigated and flooded its neighbor. State law requires trenchers to close their head gates if an overflow occurs for an extended period of time.
After a warning, Vorhees said, “I had to close it. The guy called my board of directors, Grand Valley Water Users, Palisade Irrigation District, Grand Valley Drainage District, and they all told him the same thing. I obeyed the law. “
Such encounters are not uncommon in modern irrigation systems, he said.
“We have people threatening lawsuits every year,” he said. “I tell you, ‘I’m looking forward to a letter from your lawyer.’ ”
But the district rarely receives such letters because lawyers mostly understand water law.
Subdivisions can create particular problems if homeowners don’t work together, Voorhees said. There is a subdivision near road 30 with no homeowners association and no one willing to open and close gates on the private side that serves the subdivision.
“People don’t want to talk to their neighbors anymore,” remarked Crabtree. “They don’t mean to say, ‘Hey, your tail water (irrigation drain) is flooding me.’ Now they want us to do it. “
Now whenever new subdivisions are created on the MCID system, flow meters are required to show how much water the subdivision is using.
Some are also installing penstocks and low-water landscaping to reduce water needs for irrigation, Voorhees said.
The Palisade Irrigation District employs three men to oversee the irrigation system known as field technicians rather than trenchers, Crabtree said. “Our work is more technical than just controlling headgates. It’s about operating and maintaining pipelines, replacing valves and repairing broken pipes, ”he explained.
This also includes computer technology. When Crabtree and I were visiting one of the places along Price Ditch where excess water can be directed into drainage ditches that flow back into the Colorado River, he explained to him the computer information that was available to him.
“Today we call it a surveillance control and data collection dump station, or SCADA. I can read the data with my cell phone from anywhere in the world and set how much water is released as long as I have cellular network. “
This is a far cry from the old days when trenchmen had to cross the canals on horseback and manually adjust each unloading station and head flap.
Even so, people like Voorhees and Crabtree travel their canals almost daily, examining head gates and landfills, examining sewage, determining who needs water and who is over-watering.
Sources: Dave Voorhees, Mesa County Irrigation District manager and Dan Crabtree, Palisade Irrigation District manager; “The Price-Stubb Pumping Plant,” by SO Harper, Reclamation Record, July 1920, courtesy of the Palisade Irrigation District.